Primate thalamic action potential bursts associated with low-threshold spikes (LTS) occur during waking sensory and motor activity. We now test the hypothesis that different firing and LTS burst characteristics occur during quiet wakefulness (spontaneous condition) versus mental arithmetic (counting condition). This hypothesis was tested by thalamic recordings during the surgical treatment of tremor. Across all neurons and epochs, preburst interspike intervals (ISIs) were bimodal at median values, consistent with the duration of type A and type B γ-aminobutyric acid inhibitory postsynaptic potentials. Neuronal spike trains (117 neurons) were categorized by joint ISI distributions into those firing as LTS bursts (G, grouped), firing as single spikes (NG, nongrouped), or firing as single spikes with sporadic LTS bursting (I, intermediate). During the spontaneous condition (46 neurons) only I spike trains changed category. Overall, burst rates (BRs) were lower and firing rates (FRs) were higher during the counting versus the spontaneous condition. Spike trains in the G category sometimes changed to I and NG categories at the transition from the spontaneous to the counting condition, whereas those in the I category often changed to NG. Among spike trains that did not change category by condition, G spike trains had lower BRs during counting, whereas NG spike trains had higher FRs. BRs were significantly greater than zero for G and I categories during wakefulness (both conditions). The changes between the spontaneous and counting conditions are most pronounced for the I category, which may be a transitional firing pattern between the bursting (G) and relay modes of thalamic firing (NG).
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